Kangaroos are often portrayed as cuddly and gentle marsupials and are generally docile, but can be quite vicious and evenÂ dangerousÂ (kicking with their muscular back legs, usingÂ feet topped by razor-sharp nails as weapons) when they feel threatenedÂ (often by dogs).
In this case, though, all partiesÂ â dog, man, and kangarooÂ â emerged from a confrontation relatively unscathed.
The man, who was reportedly out pig hunting with his dog and several friends in rural New South Wales, saw that his hunting dog was being forced into a headlock by a large kangaroo. The man, Greig Tonkins, 34, rushed up to help his dog.
Startled, the kangaroo let go of the dog. But Tonkinsâwho told media that he wanted to scare off the kangaroo and give his dog a chance to retreatâpunched the marsupial in the face.
“The guy’s very lucky because he could have been killed,” says Marco Festa-Bianchet, a National Geographic explorer who studies kangaroos and who is a biologist at UniversitÃ© de Sherbrooke in Quebec.
Contrary to popular belief, kangaroos don’t normally try to box, or punch, each other, says Festa-Bianchet. Instead, they prefer to balance on their strong tails and kick with their powerful back legs.
“If the kangaroo had done that to the guy it could have disemboweled him,” says Festa-Bianchet.
Another technique kangaroos sometimes use is to try to claw their opponents’ eyes out, which also could have left Tonkins seriously injured.
The kangaroo is clearly a large male, Festa-Bianchet says. It stands roughly 6 feet tall and may weigh as much as 170 pounds. An animal like that could be 9 to 15 years old and is in the prime of its life.
Male kangaroos often battle each other in the wild over access to breeding females, sometimes to the point of death. Usually, however, a male will yield to the stronger challenger, often showing subservience by grooming or making a coughing sound.
“Iâm sure the punch hurt,” says Festa-Bianchet. “You can tell the kangaroo is like, ‘Whoa what was that?’ Thatâs not what another kangaroo would do and a human does not give the right signals. It kind of looks funny but it really was a dangerous situation.”
After taking the hit, the animal retreated into the bushâwithout visible injury, Tonkins reported.
Tonkins works in the wildlife industry and serves as a zookeeper on the staff of the Taronga Western Plains Zoo, the zoo confirms in a statement. The zoo says they are investigating the incident.
Tonkins’s employment is not in jeopardy, the statement says. In his six years on the job, Tonkins “has always followed Tarongaâs best practice approach to animal care and welfare,” the zoo notes. “However, the highest standards of animal welfare and care are a core value of Taronga and one that we expect our staff to uphold in all their interactions with wildlife.”
“Taronga strongly opposes the striking of animals and does not support the practice of using dogs to hunt, as this can result in negative welfare for both species,” the zoo writes.
Friends of Tonkins have spoken out in support of his actions, saying he did what the situation called for in protecting himself, his dog, and his friends. The purpose of the trip was to help a sick friend hunt a boar, they say. That man has since died from his illness.